A new Burgoomeister and assistant worked all night in freezing weather, tending to the pioneer stew, only to see it all gobbled up in just a couple of hours.
As crowds started to fill Utica before La Salle County Historical Society’s biggest fundraiser of the year officially opened at 9 a.m. Sunday, rookie Burgoo cook Mike Ellerbrock of Oglesby and his assistant, chef Charlie Klinefelter of DePue, were watching and stirring four huge, wood-fired iron kettles holding 296 gallons of stew.
They’d been up all night. They hadn’t gone inside to warm themselves up. The wood fires kept the area surrounding the kettles warm enough to be tolerable. And they had a couple beers overnight for antifreeze.
“We wanted to make sure nobody messed with it. We wanted to make all the rumors go away,” Klinefelter said.
Translation? They didn’t want to give anyone an opening to even start a story that road-kill made its way into the pot, not that it ever does. The Burgoo now is beef stew that pays homage to pioneer stews that were made when families and friends would pool their resources, bringing ingredients such as wild game, upland birds, beef — whatever was available — for a kettle of stew.
They started the cooking at 6 p.m. Saturday, browning 200 pounds of beef in olive oil in the kettles. They then made a roux and added ingredients such as corn, potatoes and about 60 pounds of frozen green beans. Ellerbrock said they tweaked the recipe, replacing some of the traditional beans with the green beans.
The stew didn’t last long. The historical society organizers estimated up to 20,000 people attended the festival, many coming for the party, some for the leaf colors at Starved Rock, some for the 300 vendor tents that stretched from north of downtown to near the Illinois River and many for the burgoo. But the stew was gone by 1 p.m.